Breaking Bad (Habits)

Until two months ago, I had a bad habit that I had no clue how to break — I chewed my fingernails. As a child, I didn’t know why I did it, I just knew it was something (I thought) made me feel better when I was upset; it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my ragged fingernails were my psyche’s reaction to stress. I’ve never been one to drone on talking about things over which I have no control, and like my sister says, emotions are like passing gas. If you try to hold them in, they’ll come out  at some point anyway and be a lot messier when they do. Case in point, my abused hands. For years (decades really) I had shredded cuticles and chewed behind the quick nails that hurt like you wouldn’t believe. It got to the point I barely had a pinky nail on my left hand and as gross as it was, even that wasn’t enough to stop me until August 23rd.

So what was the final motivation that put me on the path to ending this habit? Over the summer I have it some serious thought and the answer to a simple yes/no question was the insight I’d been looking for my whole life. I asked myself if chewing my nails actually put an end to the stress that triggered my bad behavior. Clearly, the answer was no – if anything, the embarassment and pain (both phyiscal and emotional) it caused just added another layer of stress . That settled it for me but there was still one question whose answer eluded me – how would I stop? I knew right away that I had to do something positive because my family used negative reinforcement with me over the years, and telling me how ugly my hands were only made it worse.  I developed a strategy: I’d go get a gel acrylic manicure the Thursday before the Dusquesne game (August 23rd) and have it removed the Sunday after the  Boston College game (September 2nd). I figured I couldn’t chew fake nails so after ten days I’d be broken of my habit, in much the same way my father-in-law stopped smoking. After a bad bout of bronchitis that kept him from going outside to smoke for a month, he simply quit. I took inspiration from him and decided to go for it. I told myself that after I had the nails removed I’d go get some nail stengthening polish and an emery board. When I had the manicure removed, it was slow going at first because my nails weren’t going to immediately recover. Little by little, they began to grow and I was thrilled to see white tips on my fingers. It felt wierd to finally have fingernails – wierd in a good way- and I found myself being extremely careful with my hands; I’ve started asking my husband to open packages and soda cans and it actually feels really good to have “I don’t want to break a nail” as an excuse of sorts. I’ve kept nail strengthener on them and have even tried ones with a hint of tint to them – I’m getting better at polishing my own nails, but filing them is still a bit of a lost art from for me yet. The first time I tried to smooth a rough edge, I nearly filed my nail completely down. Yikes! It’s a learning curve to be sure, and I’ve decided for now to leave it to the experts, the lovely young ladies who run Star Nails in Amherst. I went for my first non-fake manicure on OCtober 4th and just got my nails filed and polished, nothing fancy. I was reqarding myself, but I also see nail polish as a means to and end. I don’t  want to get it in my mouth and I don’t want to waste my money by ruining my manicure with my teeth; so far it’s working. I went for my second manicure on the 18th and this time got a gel polish manicure – it’s a little more expensive but is supposed to be more resistant to chipping and will last longer. It looks so pretty that I can barely believe these appendages on the end of my hands are my fingertips. I’d become so resigned over the years to the “fact” that I would always have ugly hands that it never occurred to me that I could get over it as easily as I have and have normal hands. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted to chew my nails since August – of course I have. It’s just not that I know I don’t have to mutilate my nails, I choose not to do so. I have self-confidence I’venever experienced before and I’m not willing to give it up for a bad habit. My first broken nail actually caused me to have a mini-meltdown. To help me feel better, my husband took my hand (after I nearly shoved my finger up his nose showing him my severed nail tip) and told me “you broke it, it’ll grow back. Look at it this way, you didn’t chew it and you’re not going to. It’ll be ok.”  With his positive reinforcement and my own determination, I know that, moving forward, I’ll be better than ok.